THOUSANDS of homes could be built on greenbelt land on Durham City’s northern outskirts, under plans being considered by council chiefs.

The city is set to get 5,000 new homes by 2030 under the County Durham Plan – the county council’s multi-billion-pound masterplan to transform the county into a regional economic powerhouse, with 29,000 new homes and 16,000 extra jobs.

Last year, planning chiefs identified seven potential housing sites across Durham City.

Now they have revealed their three preferred options, including two near the A167 north of Durham – at Sniperley and near the Arnison Centre. They are also keen on land near Sherburn Road Estate.

No final decisions have been taken and further consultation will follow.

However, Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning, said: “We’re in challenging times. We want to maximise opportunities in the county and bring in jobs and houses.

“We’re setting a vision and direction that I think will be still be able to achieve strong economic growth into the future.”

Council chiefs say the three “priority one” sites, which together cover 435 acres and could take 4,929 homes, have good locations and transport links and their development would have the least impact on the environment and Durham’s World Heritage Site.

Sites south of Belmont and at Mount Oswald and Merryoaks have been declared “priority two”, and land at Brasside, Whitesmocks and Ramside has been effectively ruled out.

Framwellgate Moor councillor Mark Wilkes has called for more public consultation.

And Neville’s Cross councillor Nigel Martin said he was very concerned about development at Mount Oswald, which was saved from being turned into a £150m business park in 2008 and into a £75m “millionaires’ row” and business site in 2009.

He said it would cost open space and have a major impact on local schools and the A167, which he claimed was “lurching towards a standstill”.

The County Durham Plan could also see Durham get northern and western bypasses and Aykley Heads turned into a business hub capable of attracting the national headquarters of major firms.

Meanwhile, towns across the county would develop vibrant town centres with extra shops.

Council bosses hope the County Durham Plan will be agreed next year.

Bats may fly to rescue

IS the bat mightier than the bulldozer?

Campaigners fighting to save Durham Police-run Aykley Heads leisure centre, in Durham City, hope so.

Durham Police Authority closed the 30-year-old sports centre, which it subsidised to the tune of £300,000 a year, earlier this month.

Users want to run the centre themselves, but police authority chiefs say their business case does not stack up and the facility will be demolished in March.

However, campaigners are now pinning their hopes on a rumour bats have taken up residence in its creaking walls and roof.

John Asby, chairman of the centre’s users’ group, said destroying a bat colony was an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He called for a survey to be conducted in late spring, after the bats’ hibernation period ends. “I’ve seen bats in the evening flying around the site,” he said.

“Although of course the police authority would be entitled to proceed immediately with demolition they would be running the risk of breaking the law.”

Peter Thompson, chairman of Durham Police Authority, said: “The police authority and constabulary take any suggestion of a colony of bats very seriously and always respond immediately upon such advice.”

However, he added: “There has never been any suggestion of bats at the centre.”